My partner in crime when it comes to soft launches tracked down Lokhandwala’s opening. This new Indian tapas restaurant in the heart of Fitzrovia has been set up by the same guys behind the food festival The Grub Fest. Although I’m usually reluctant to dine out Indian style – as I end up comparing my mum’s foods to restaurants’ take on Indian fare – I came here with an open-mind. Especially as Lokhandwala has a story behind it: its interiors celebrate the story of Lady Charlotte, a noblewoman at the heart of one of the best kept secret scandals of Victorian British aristocracy. She had eloped with a street-boss from Mumbai’s then notorious Lokhandwala district and returned to London, awaiting the return of her love, Vijay. Alas, he never returned and a broken-hearted Lady Charlotte distracted herself, entertaining her friends in London with foods and drinks from her beloved’s homeland and surrounding herself with trinkets from her travels.
I was also drawn to Lokhandwala as they celebrate Indian foods’ inherently healthy qualities: a range of vegan Ayurvedic shots and smoothies act as effective palate cleansers, incorporating ingredients that have been part of Indian health and well-being regimes for centuries but are only now being promoted by the self-proclaimed “clean-eating” gurus. It’s great that Indian food’s rejuvenating qualities are being authentically showcased here: Ashwagandha herbal tea; Aloo Bhukhara smoothie (Indian rehydrated plums, hemp seed milk and blue poppy seeds); Ved (triphala, ginger and kokum) and Vegan green smoothie (cashew nut milk, bananas, mint, celery and nutmeg).
The main restaurant lies on the ground floor which leads to “The Hot House” cocktail bar at the rear of the building. This space looks very cool. Reminiscent of a speakeasy, there are trendy bar stools which would be ideal for perching on, whilst sipping on a concept cocktail (all £11) and some crunchy poppadums. Created specifically for The Hot House, the unique cocktails pay homage to the charms of Indian mythology, folk art and music. My “Like a Bird” was more than like a bird: it was served in a bird-shaped beaker, resting on a cushion and tucked away in a cage. Made with Bombay sapphire, organic white wine, blood orange puree, peach liqueur, raspberry syrup and fresh lemon, it was fruity and seasonal, though could have done with a drop more alcohol. This didn’t detract from the engaging presentation though. My companion’s “Herbalist”, made with Tanqueray gin, Absentheroux, herbal liqueur, vanilla syrup, cucumber and coriander, and rose lemonade – though sounded well designed – was a touch too icy.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed these cocktails over a bite (or crunch) of the Bakes, Poppadum and Relish (£4). Though described as baked purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, fried sago, rice, lentil and wheat poppadums, it was more like a compilation of vegetable chips. Query whether the potatoes have been fried of baked?! The real stars of the show were the unusual range of dips that came with the poppadums: pineapple and chilli chutney, beetroot yoghurt and avocado garam masala. Each was well-seasoned with a spicy kick. The yoghurt was beautifully pink and the idea of pairing avocado/Indian style guacamole and pappadoms is a welcome revelation to me.
The menu offers a variety of small plates. In the sharing mood, my companion and I went for the Indian Wigwam (£6) – a dosa cone duet served with spicy South Indian potato curry – and the Pumpkin, Soya & Pomegrante seed sliders (£6). The dosa was well presented and the mashed potatoes delicious, though the plate wasn’t served with any coconut yoghurt, which is an essential component of dosa’s heritage. The sliders, meanwhile, were a surprise: more like mini burgers, my companion and I concluded that an Indian restaurant needn’t serve what is essentially burgers and chips.
Keen to try one of their curries, we also ordered the Indian Mezze Platter (£11), which came with Aubergine, Bharta and Beetroot, Cucumber Raita, Okra and Garlic Naan. Whilst I was hoping for a thali, the platter didn’t feature any curry, which is something of a misnomer for an Indian restaurant. The okra were lady-fingers deep fried and the aubergine – much like my mum’s “oro” – is more like an Indian aubergine babaganoush as opposed to a saucy curry. Whilst it’s exciting to see traditional Indian dishes being presented tapas style, the essence of thalis is to have a bit of everything: curry, naans/chipatis, bhajis, rice, chutneys, raitas and likely more…It’s a shame that their curries are only on the “Imperial Jewels” section of the menu, which – on the vegetarian front – only features paneer, leaving no vegan options.
We also ordered the Vepudu Taco with Cauliflower (£7), which were potato skins as tacos topped with hot spices. Whilst these were delicious, they were more like mini-bitings and were served on vegetable crisps rather than potato “skins”.
All in all, whilst I like the concept behind Lokhandwala and its well-thought out cocktails, I was disappointed with their foods. Our (choice of) plates were too fried and the tapas part of the menu should feature a greater range of curries. The dishes were also presented all at once; in tapas style, they should arrive as they’re ready as there wasn’t enough space on the table for all the plates. For more hearty and varied Indian foods, I think Dishoom still wins and on the tapas front, there’s Kricket, of course.
Lokhandwala, 93 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4PY